It was well past midnight Pacific Time, and everyone aboard the bus was quiet as we rolled north on the 405 from LAX to the team hotel in Santa Monica. The only sounds came from the radio speakers, tuned to a Southern California classic rock station.
Hours earlier, the Carolina Hurricanes had suffered one of their worst losses of the season, an 8-4 drubbing against the Coyotes at Glendale Arena. The team’s rookie goaltender, Cam Ward, allowed six goals in 31 minutes before Head Coach Peter Laviolette mercifully sent Martin Gerber into the game. Another rookie, Andrew Ladd, suffered what appeared to be a significant knee injury in the game. It was Carolina’s sixth loss in eight games following the best start in franchise history.
It was a low point, a turn in the schedule that had a few of us probably thinking that maybe the experts were right about us. Maybe the Hurricanes really were that team picked 30th in the league by many coming out of the NHL’s work stoppage. Maybe that magical nine-game winning streak in October and November was just a fluke.
Right around the time we took the exit west on the 10, familiar piano chords started playing aboard our charter bus. And then the voice of Steve Perry.Just a small town girl
Livin’ in a lonely world
She took the midnight train
Like many things during that magical 2005-06 season, “Don’t Stop Believin’” organically playing during what felt like our darkest hour felt about right. (Mind you, this was 2005, before Glee gave that song its true second life.) It seemed like a sign, a reminder that something special was happening to us and that destiny was somehow on the side of the little hockey team from Raleigh, North Carolina.
No, the prognosticators weren’t right about the Hurricanes in September. They weren’t right the morning after Erik Cole got hurt. They weren’t right two games into the playoffs, when Carolina was down 0-2 heading to Montreal. They weren’t right about those red-hot New Jersey Devils. And they weren’t right that Edmonton’s 4-0 Game 6 victory spelled certain doom for their North Carolinian adversaries.
Because there was just something different about that team. Almost from the first day of camp, you could feel it, and every man added to the mix seemed to only enhance it. Andrew Ladd’s injury in Arizona was indeed significant. So we brought up a rookie named Chad LaRose. Brooks Orpik’s hit on Erik Cole didn’t end our season, because days later Jim Rutherford traded for Mark Recchi. Down 0-2 to Montreal, Carolina turned to their rookie goaltender and the Captain who wouldn’t let them lose. The poor Devils never stood a chance, and the Oilers had no idea what type of effort the Hurricanes – and their fans – had in store for them in Game 7.
What was it that allowed the Hurricanes to overcome slumps and shrug off two-goal, third-period deficits like stepping over a puddle on a rainy day? More than anything, it was a level of chemistry matched only in family settings.
They were brothers. Their wives were sisters. Their kids were cousins, playing together in the lockeroom after games.
We had up-and-coming young players like Eric Staal and Cam Ward and Andrew Ladd and Chad LaRose. And we had their older and wiser big brothers, like Rod Brind’Amour, Glen Wesley, Bret Hedican, Ray Whitney and Doug Weight, who had been through the battles but still not achieved their ultimate goal. Sure, they all wanted it for themselves. But they wanted it just as badly for their brothers. And even for their uncles, like Equipment Manager Skip Cunningham, waiting for his chance to lift that Cup after nearly 30 years in the NHL.
That’s why on the night of June 19, there were so many people on the ice. Trust me, it wasn’t what the league wanted. But we simply could not properly celebrate that championship without the extensions of our Hurricanes family right there with us. Wives, kids, parents, grandparents. They were all a part of it. They all belonged there.
Ten years later, this reunion has gone the same direction. We invited players and their wives to return for this 10th Anniversary Stanley Cup celebration, and that group has unsurprisingly expanded to include kids. Brothers and sisters and cousins all back together for the family reunion.
On that special night in June 2006, we all gathered together for a big family photo, right there on the ice, with that silver trophy as the centerpiece.
That family photo hangs in my house still, on the same walls with photos of children who have been born in the 10 years since. Like any 10-year-old family photo, the people in it have aged, and it includes faces of relatives who are no longer with us, but whose memories are cherished. To me, that framed family photo represents the spirit of the 2005-06 Hurricanes better than a replica Stanley Cup or a shiny ring ever could.
Framed with the family photo is the Whatever It Takes coin that Peter Laviolette gave each of us to carry around during that playoff run, and a poem that Kevyn Adams wrote and read at our end-of-the-season gathering:It’s the time of the year to recite a few lines,
Cause we spent the last two months chasing the big prize.
At the start of camp, no one gave us a chance,
But look at us now boys, we’re the Stanley Cup champs.
We welcomed new faces, we all did our part,
And throughout the year, this team always showed heart.
We’re brothers for life, over this special bond.
The dream we all shared as kids on the pond.
As we leave for the summer, just think every day
We’re the Stanley Cup Champions,
And no one can ever, ever take that away.
is the Vice President of Communications and Team Services for the Carolina Hurricanes.Email